Human learners in a less than human worldI think, therefore I am
I've been lucky enough to do three MOOCs, the E-learning and Digital Cultures, Introduction to Philosophy and Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life. In a sense all three look at what it means to be human, how do we define ourselves, what is our significance, and how do we go about asking fundamental questions. In order to educate ourselves and others, it helps to understand who we are so we can understand how we learn.
The short video above illustrates the path we've taken since the reductionism of de Leplace, Newton and others, called the Galilean Spell by Stuart Kauffman in his book Reinventing the Sacred, led to the foundationalism and dualism of Rene Descartes. This eventually led us to posthumanism.
So we are on the MOOC bandwagon, the latest in e-learning. We've all experienced poor online learning in various contexts, content, content, content, test. It's too easy to do. But EDCMOOC at least has been different. With a massive course, learning can't be simply a matter of content dictated from a lecturer's notes to those of a student. While the philosophy and astrobiology courses have had traditional video lectures, EDCMOOC forced us to think by looking at various resources, and documenting these using various social media. The contrast is interesting. I enjoy seeing a human lecturers on video (though the zooming in and out in the philosophy lectures was annoying and pointless) - because I want human connection. Yet in EDCMOOC, using Facebook and Twitter (and comments via Blogger), there has also been a valueable human connection. We need to be social learners.
Of course, what it means to be a learner requires us to think about what it means to be human. Abandoning the Christian idea of the imago Dei or image of God means human is harder to define. Cartesian skepticism is just the start (though Descartes was a Christian - hence his dualism to rescue the soul from a clockwork universe). Are we just brains in a vat? Could we become so? Connected to the Matrix? Uploaded into a collective consciousness? To what extent are we human-machine hybrids already?
It seems a lot of the posthuman/transhuman hype comes from some sort of intellectual elite who lack connection to the rest of the world, and are dissatisfied with the limitations of what it is to be human. Don't get me wrong, disease, premature death etc should be combated. But we are seeing the reaction to drugs in sport. People don't think every form of augmentation is good. Perhaps the frightening nature of the world and the direction in which it is headed force people into longing for a techno-heaven (that's uploading the brain, not the world's best dance party!)
Imagine never unplugging, seeing the world all of the time through electronically mediated eyes like some of the videos in the course (Day of Glass and Sight). While online gaming teaches some hand/eye skills, the ability to plan and think strategically, the disembodied state enlarges people's personalities at times in an unhelpful way. Trolling, spamming, mental infidelity, and in education, a lack of filtering and discernment skills, plagiarism and all of the symptoms of old school learning made more efficient and easier.
Of course the whole issue of what it means to be human is challenged on a number of levels. Aliens, animal intelligence, and whether or not computers could ever become conscious. Science Fiction deals with some of these themes, but it is worth remembering some of it is still very much fiction and experts argue about whether or not Robbie or Gumdrop are possible. Daleks and Cybermen who us that maybe some robots don't want to be human, even if Data does!
Of course, technology can provide us with multisensory experiences, and the best online learning should embrace sound, video, text, and of course active doing - as EDMOOC has done (indeed that's the point of this digital artifact, hence I 'made' some memes and the Xtranormal video). Note too our skeptical African is being left behind in a digital divide. Utopia must be all inclusive or else it is dystopia unavoidably.
Learning is doing, risking mistakes, honing the senses (I've been reading Think like Da Vinci by Michael Gelb, well worth it). Let's make the most of online learning and new technologies, but not accept them blindly in a way that warps, rather than simply augments our humanity and helps us to flourish.